Haley Ellis began painting a mural on the walls of her room last year for fun. She did not envision at the time the hobby could turn into a livelihood.
Ellis, a junior at Warhill High School, has been creating art in some form for as long as she can remember. But until recently, she did not see herself as a career artist. Instead, she focused on good grades and choosing a traditional college.
“Just recently I decided that I want a life where I don’t worry about my money so much as how I live my life. … If you take money out of the equation, it just becomes what you’d like to do,” Ellis said.
The decision lifted a weight off the teenager’s shoulders, she said.
She has chosen a new route — one that still includes college but to major in fine or studio art, and where she can earn a living doing what she loves most: creating art on her own terms.
The idea struck Ellis while she was working as a portrait artist last year at Busch Gardens. The job was a creative outlet, but she said the strict schedule cramped her style. Rather than her wall mural hobby taking away from money-making at the park, Ellis spent her working hours dreaming of wall murals and wishing to be laboring at those instead.
She put the wish into motion this year with the launch of Ellis Wall Murals, a business to provide custom murals and wall painting to area residents and businesses.
Her designs so far have stretched from the depths of the ocean to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
Ellis started a project at Uncle Russ’ Dockside Seafood Market this spring through her connection with the owner’s son. The in-progress mural spans a wall with an undersea scene with a scuba diver, turtle and multiple colorful fish swimming under sunshine as it pierces the surface of the water.
In another venture for Ellis Wall Murals, she painted a friend’s bedroom in an outer-space theme.
She is spreading the word about her new vocation through word of mouth and on Facebook. Ellis is already working with Ann’s Kitchen – next door in the shopping center with Uncle Russ’ Dockside Seafood Market – for a project in the restaurant.
Working with local businesses and residents to make their vision come to life on walls, Ellis aims to keep her mural prices affordable. When researching prices for her projects, she was shocked to see artists charging as much as $30 per square foot.
“I thought that was ridiculously expensive,” she said.
Working in the cost and gas and paint, Ellis has murals priced based on the amount of labor she expects them to entail. Simple designs can be as low as $2.50 a square foot, with more intricate designs costing $10 to $15 per square foot.
While Ellis Wall Murals is her new vocation, she does not limit herself to painting on walls. With a list of accolades in local art contests this spring for her work in ink or charcoal, including the People’s Choice Award at the This Century Art Gallery student show, Ellis is happy to discuss smaller projects with customers. She usually works in oil paints on canvas, and also enjoys doing regular pencil drawings.
When she is not focusing on her business, Ellis has found yet another avenue for her artistic eye, designing sets for the Warhill theater department. Her art hit the stage in two shows at the school this year, where she partnered with another student for the fall’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and was the lead designer for the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” this spring.
Ellis drew inspiration from the art deco style of the Broadway show’s set to bring the production to life in Williamsburg. It was a pressure Ellis has never felt before but despite the stress, she said she would like more set design for future school productions while balancing her new career as a mural artist.